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Artistic efforts marred by politics?

Henna Rakheja, Nov 6, 2012, DHNS: 21:29 IST

DEBATE

A specific role that culture plays in lives is that of bridging gaps to create a cordial atmosphere. To that extent, artists play a crucial role in mending strained relationships.

But what if artists are tainted and boycotted by their counterparts? Metrolife takes up the debate of whether the recent boycott of Israel’s Cameri Theatre (which recently performed at Siri Fort as part of 6th Delhi International Arts Festival) by leading filmmakers, artists and theatre performers was justified.

‘The 60 year old Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv is a young, involved, responsive and socially oriented theatre that is attentive to the reality in which we live...’ is how the group projects itself in an official communique. In India though, it has drawn attention to itself for wrong reasons, particularly from film, theatre and litterateurs like Shyam Benegal, Bedabrata Pain, MK Raina and K. Satchidanandan respectively.

Part of a group of about a 150 people boycotting their performance, these veterans allege Cameri Theatre’s “complicity” in Israeli occupation of Palestine, since it has chosen to “perform in the illegal settlement of Ariel, one of the largest settlements in occupied West Bank,” in a statement released by Indian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (ICACBI).

But is it correct to boycott a cultural performance or give it political overtones?

Bedabrata Pain former NASA scientist and director of the critically acclaimed Chittagong feels, “An artist is a celebration of the human spirit. The issue is the insensitivity that the group has shown by performing in Ariel. To me they have brought down the human spirit by doing so. There are other Israeli artists who have refused to perform in Ariel but this group has taken a very fine excuse for not taking a political stand. They have got themselves embroiled in trouble!”

Feisal Alkazi, noted theatre personality who in the past has also been invited to launch a book by Israel embassy, this time chose to stay away: “I got an invite but did not attend for I feel the need to protest and did so through silent boycott. I agree that there should be protests against the group, more so because the artists are not staging reality. Ultimately, all art is political, whether we like it or not.”

Director general, Cameri Theatre, Noam Semel voices his point of view: “This is the first time ever that Israeli theatre is being performed in India. Our aim is to bridge the gap of cultures. Israel is a melting pot for 148 exiles,” and he goes on to prove that by introducing his artists by asking them to reveal their lineage.

Only three of the twelve we spoke to stated that they were wholly Israeli. All the others mentioned that at least one parent was a non-Israelite. How then in the larger context, this group be labelled as part of an Apartheid campaign? “We perform anywhere people want us to perform. We are servants of culture, of creativity, of peace and of art. We do not represent any country. We are here to entertain, inspire and bridge a cultural gap.” Do we need more answers?

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